DUBAI (Reuters) -Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz told the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday that his kingdom supports efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, as world leaders prepare to resume talks with Tehran to reinstate a 2015 nuclear pact.
“The kingdom insists on the importance of keeping the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, on this basis we support international efforts aiming at preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons,” he said in a pre-recorded video address to the annual gathering.
Iran and Saudi Arabia, leading Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, have been rivals for years, backing allies fighting proxy wars in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere. They cut diplomatic ties in 2016, but have been holding talks this year aimed at reducing tensions.
“Iran is a neighboring country, and we hope that our initial talks with it will lead to concrete results to build confidence … based on… respect of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs,” King Salman said.
His remarks followed a call by Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi to resume nuclear talks with world powers that would lead to the removal of U.S. sanctions.
On Tuesday, the Saudi foreign minister met with his Iranian counterpart during the General Assembly, according to Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency.
In his address, King Salman said Yemen’s Houthis were rejecting peaceful initiatives to end the war and that Saudi Arabia would defend itself against ballistic missiles and armed drones.
The 85-year-old ruler said the kingdom had taken big steps over the past five years since his heir Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched an ambitious plan to diversify the economy away from dependence on oil and other changes.
He also made reference to Saudi Arabia fighting extremism.
“The kingdom continues to fight extremist thinking, built on hatred, and keeping in check terrorist organisations and sectarian militias that destroy humanity and nations,” he said.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Michael Georgy in Dubai. Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Jane Merriman and Grant McCool)